Modern Legend is a homebred, owned and trained by a man with only one horse. Yet despite the odds, he is living up to his name.
By Keith McCalmont // Photos by Dave Landry
Through the first 57 starts of his career, Modern Legend had built a resume of good, but not necessarily great, accomplishments.
The Modern Art gelding first made a bit of a name for himself late in his three-year-old campaign, reeling off eight consecutive victories as he swept the Autumn, Snowshoe and Cam Fella series’, all at Woodbine. He even lowered the stakes record of the Autumn Series to 1:50.4.
But as Dave Drew’s homebred, unraced as a two-year-old, grew up, the competition stiffened, and the wins that once came so easily were suddenly harder to come by on the Grand Circuit, when he started racing at that level early in his five-year-old year.
And now as a six-year-old, Modern Legend, through 57 career starts, was good, but he needed that something extra on his resume to make him, wait for it…legendary.
There was no indication on the night of the 72nd edition of the $634,000 Canadian Pacing Derby that Modern Legend was about to make a breakthrough. Leaving the gate at odds of 68-1, its probable that, other than a few hopeful punters, there was only one person at Mohawk who thought the big fella had a chance.
“I always thought he had it in him,” said Drew. “Ever since Modern Legend got into Grand Circuit racing, I believed he had a shot at winning a big race.
“Last year he was close. He was second to Foiled Again by a neck in World Record time (1:48 flat in a Ben Franklin elim at Pocono Downs). He was timed in 1:47.3 at the Meadowlands (finishing within a head of Sweet Lou) . He has a lot of capability and has been able to finish ahead of every horse he’s raced against at various times.”
But finishing in front of most, and not all, of his Grand Circuit rivals when the chips were down left bettors thinking Modern Legend was a second tier horse. All that was about to change.
“He just needed things to fall into place,” said Drew. “If there’s one thing I’ve heard repeatedly over the years about this horse is that he will try very hard to do exactly what the driver asks him to do. Every single time.”
David Miller took the reins on Modern Legend in the Pacing Derby for just the second time in his career, and the Hall of Fame driver went into the race with a plan that his horse was happy to follow.
Going into the first turn, Modern Legend was fifth with a quartet of Ron Burke trainees in front of him led by Bettors Edge, Foiled Again, 1/5 shot Sweet Lou, and Clear Vision.
Sweet Lou, on a run of 11 consecutive wins, burst to the lead down the backside for Ron Pierce, marking the three-quarters in a suicidal 1:20.1.
Time was on the side of Modern Legend.
“Heading for the half, coming second over, I was encouraged but I never underestimate the power of the other horses in the field,” recalled Drew. “He still had four Ron Burke horses in front of him and there’s nothing to be taken for granted with that group.“
Ever so patient, Miller kept Modern Legend behind cover until mid-stretch before tipping out.
“When Miller moved him, he responded so well,” said a hushed Drew. “It was only late in the race I realized he was going to win it.”
It was only late in the race that track announcer Ken Middleton found Drew’s pride and joy overcoming Foiled Again’s late speed.
“Modern Legend, on the far outside, looking for one of the greatest upsets in Canadian Pacing Derby history,” roared Middleton in the final strides.
At last, a ‘legendary’ performance. One that will be retold for years to come. Not only by the fans who appreciated a 1:47.2 effort that equalled the stakes, track and Canadian record, but through the tall tales of bettors claiming to have the $135.70 winning ticket.
And how did Drew, standing trackside, react to one of the wildest, most unlikely finishes, in racing history?
“I just enjoyed the seconds as he went by us and off into the turn. What a horse,” grinned Drew.
So, how do you make a legend? It turns out patience is the key.
In 2000, Drew purchased a modest mare named Ruby Cam as a yearling at the Forest City Sale. His brother, Greg, trained the filly and the duo both had a hand in driving her through 11 starts that boasted six wins, highlighted by a victory in the Middlesex County Filly Pacing Series Final.
“She only raced in her four-year-old season. She injured a sesamoid in one of her hind legs around Christmas time as a yearling,” explained Drew. “We tried to give her some time off and get her to the track as a three-year-old but she just wasn’t sound enough. She had a good gait and attitude but needed more time off.”
And so, Drew waited and slowly trained her down.
“She raced well enough at four, but her ankle was not going to hold up well enough for full time racing. Her gait was really smooth and her conformation was excellent and that’s why I decided to keep her and breed her,” he said.
While Ruby Cam didn’t have a long career on the track (she did earn $42,609 in those 11 starts), some of her offspring proved to be successful. Web Cam, Modern Legend’s older, half-brother, earned $208,239 while taking a speed badge of 1:51.4.
Just how Modern Legend came to be is a combination of luck and hard work.
The 63-year-old Drew, who holds a Bachelor in Industrial Engineering from Kettering University and a Masters of Business Administration from the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, studied pedigrees looking for the perfect match.
“She had other foals before Modern Legend. Web Cam, was by Astreos. I was looking for a stallion that had some size and a reasonable race record. No one knew at that point how Modern Art was going to turn out but we took a chance,” explains Drew. “I just studied the pedigree of available stallions and found a reasonable match.”
Modern Art didn’t have any long-term history as a stallion at that time, but he was about to have a flag bearer thanks to Drew’s grind.
“That’s part of the breeding game. You have to hope for the best that you can create a good horse,” said Drew.
Patience is the theme to Modern Legend’s success story and that’s something Drew has in spades.
Drew grew up around horses and watched from the grandstand as a fan dreaming of one day taking part in a sport that touched him from an early age.
“My father and brother got involved in harness racing when I was a teenager and I had some experience on the farm jogging horses and going training miles,” recalled Drew. “I had an uncle that had horses on a small scale all his life and I can recall going to Western Fair in 1961, the first year they opened, and Windsor Raceway in 1962. Prior to that, I went to races at the fairs in Dresden and Leamington.”
But work came first for Drew who had a career in the automotive business, overseeing manufacturing operations in six different facilities in General Motors in Canada. He married his wife, Nancy, and together raised two daughters, Lisa and Stephanie.
“I kept in touch with racing, owning one horse at a time over the years while my brother trained and drove,” said Drew.
Once he retired, Drew finally had time to focus on his life’s passion of training racehorses, while the business acumen he developed through decades in the automotive industry continues to be satisfied by an active role in shaping the future development of harness racing. Dave is the Secretary Treasurer of COSA and has also served as a committee member for Standardbred Canada.
“Part of what I want to do is to improve horse racing and find ways to work with Woodbine and Mohawk to continue to improve the product and help out horse people,” said Drew.
He believes that continued integration with Ontario Lottery and Gaming will help to grow the sport.
“Given the restructuring of the past three years, it’s critical that horse racing gets tightly linked with the OLG and secures a true partnership with gaming integration,” said Drew. “There’s huge potential there and the OLG has expertise with marketing. If we can combine that with the type of product that horse racing can offer, it’s an excellent opportunity.”
Drew is also a proponent of bringing the coverage and promotion of harness racing into the modern era.
“We also need to tap into a younger generation,” said Drew. “Social networking short term events, under two minutes, makes sense to that youth culture and we have to find a way to integrate that to a younger generation that lives with handheld devices.”
Modern Legend, like his mother before him, took his time getting to the races.
“Typically, I take lots of time with horses. I don’t push them much at two,” said Drew. “He was broken as a yearling and got to jogging and light training but I didn’t push him much. He got down around 2:13 and then I eased off in late fall and started him back as a three-year-old.”
Modern Legend would finish second, defeated just a nose, in his first start on July 17, 2011 at Flamboro with his owner-trainer in the bike.
“I drove him his first four starts. He clearly had talent. He was straightforward to drive, wanted to race and dug in. He won (easily) second time out,” said Drew. “It didn’t take long to figure out I should turn him over to a professional driver.”
That humble nature with regard to his own driving abilities brought a laugh, but the ability to sit behind a horse in race situations has become a key part of Drew’s ability to relate to his trainees.
“It’s all a process. You pick it up one piece at a time with experience,” said Drew of learning the ropes as a trainer. “Becoming an amateur driver with the Billings Amateur Driving Series and having a chance to drive different horses and get a feel for racing helped my training. It allowed me to get a feel for how they move and what types of things can help them.”
After four lifetime starts, Jack Moiseyev took over from Drew as the primary driver through that impressive run of series sweeps at Woodbine in his three and four-year-old seasons, as Modern Legend drew the attention of the media, fans and other owners.
“I had numerous inquiries about selling him, but my standard line was always that he wasn’t for sale,” stated Drew. “He’s a horse of a lifetime. I could sense that. He’s a top horse, he tries hard and races his heart out. I had no inclination to sell him at that time or today.”
It would seem that as Drew grows into his retirement and burgeoning hobby as a trainer, that he has become one with his horse. Having sold off Web Cam, Drew now oversees a stable of one. Quality over quantity and a chance to be hands on with a legend.
Both horse and owner took their time getting to the races and now the two of them spend their mornings together each and every day.
“He takes his time,” said Jen Sharp, who has paddocked Modern Legend throughout his career and works side-by-side with Drew at John Hayes’ training facility.
“It could take him two hours to do up the horse each day,” grinned Sharp. “The horse jogs and swims everyday. Dave puts a lot of attention into him. It definitely helps. He can pay attention to every little thing.”
Horse and trainer spend so much time together that it would seem their personalities have morphed into one.
“He’s quiet and easy to work with, and very keen” offered Sharp.
And then, “He’s nice to work with, level headed and listens to what you want him to do. He’s a keeper.”
The former describing the owner, the latter the horse that defines his career.
In time, Modern Legend will need to retire as well.
“He’ll tell me when it’s time. My role is to take the best care I can of him. I have the time to do that and try to keep him in proper condition. I listen to him and he’ll let me know,” said Drew.
For now though, Drew and his protégé will point to their next race. One horse. One trainer. One goal –to keep on winning one for the little guy.
“I’ve had significant feedback from a lot of people happy that someone on a smaller scale won such a big race,” grinned Drew. “People are pleased that ‘Legend’ is Canadian owned and trained at a home track. It’s a proud time for me.”